Today, the internet is overrun with articles about the solar eclipse that took place this morning. A solar eclipse takes place when the sun is completely obscured by the moon. It is of course an interesting astronomical phenomenon. But the ancients were equally (and probably more) fascinated with eclipses. In the imaginative debate in Plutarch's On the Apparent Face in the Orb of the Moon, we find many references to eclipses, including the phrase "the moon placed between the sun and the earth" (De faciae 15), which signifies a solar eclipse. In fact, the ancients predicted eclipses just like we do today, and we can get a glimpse of this from the papyri. In P.Oxy. 61.4137, a Greek papyrus dated to the first half of the first century C.E., we find a prediction of two lunar eclipses, for the years 56 and 57 C.E. Alexander Jones notes that the complete papyrus would have listed a series of eclipses over several years. There were even canons, tables, and almanacs that the ancients consulted in order to make their calculations. The astronomical papyri offer fascinating insights into how the ancients conceived of astronomy, horoscopes, calendars, math, and the like. A translation and image of P.Oxy. 61.4137 is reproduced below.
The leading work on this subject is: Alexander Jones, Astronomical Papyri from Oxyrhynchus (2 vols. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1999).